World-Renowned Putting Instructor David Orr Returns to Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club
SOUTHERN PINES, N.C.—David Orr, who went from teaching golf at Pine Needles from 2000-04 to coaching some of the top players in professional golf a decade later, is returning to the venerable Sandhills-area resort and relocating his putting and short-game teaching business and on-line Flatstick Academy there.
Orr credits his years at Pine Needles working under the late Peggy Kirk Bell as the foundation to a career that evolved into teaching Professional Golf Management at Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C., and then embarking on cutting-edge putting research. He then took his putting and short-game expertise to professional golf, where his client list has included Justin Rose, Hunter Mahan, Cheyenne Woods and Suzann Petterson.
Orr is open for business in the Pine Needles Learning Center in 2018 and will offer individual and group lessons focusing on putting, chipping, pitching and bunker play. He will also operate multi-day short-game schools and consult with the Pine Needles staff in running the resort’s well-known golf instruction programs.
“This is a homecoming for me,” says the 49-year-old Orr. “I think of Peggy every day. I stand on the range and look around and say, ‘Wow, every brick, every blade of grass—they’re here because of her.’ She built the dream. You cannot replace her. But it’s an honor to be back.”
Miller said he noticed Orr’s presence on social media and on his FlatstickAcademy.com website and saw references to golfers traveling to Buies Creek for lessons. Orr has a wall on his putting studio at Campbell signed by over 60 tour professionals who’ve traveled there to be evaluated by Orr’s three-dimensional stroke analysis system and work on skill development.
“I thought, ‘Why not have these people come to Pine Needles?’” says Miller, himself an accomplished amateur golfer who credits Orr with having helped him transition from the long putter now outlawed by the USGA to a traditional short putter. “This is a unique opportunity to get someone of David’s skill and reputation to come to here. David is certainly one of the top two or three putting instructors in the United States. He’ll bring some energy and an exciting niche to what we’re already doing.”
Orr is a native of Pulaski, N.Y., played golf at Bridgewater College in Virginia and then graduated in 1991 from Oswego State in New York with a degree in political science. He played the golf mini-tours in the early and mid-1990s and then gravitated to teaching the game. He worked at Cheviot Hills and Northridge Country Club in Raleigh in the late-1990s, his teaching style built around the influences of PGA Tour player Mac O’Grady and Homer Kelley’s book, The Golfing Machine.
“I got to Pine Needles with a lot of science in my head and learned from Peggy the art of teaching,” Orr says. “’How-to’ instruction doesn’t work all that well. The brilliant ‘ah-ha moment’ with Peg was her drumming it into my head that you need to get students to do something in order to learn it. I can remember, David get them out there doing it. That was a huge turning point. I learned to make instruction palatable so that people could understand it and improve.”
Orr left in 2004 to take classes in the Professional Golf Management program at Campbell and obtain his Class A-6 PGA status, which he did in 2007. He joined the Campbell faculty and became Director of Instruction for the PGM program, and during the late 2000s began doing extensive research into putting—from technique to equipment to green reading. One of the significant developments was Orr learning the SAM PuttLab system, which uses 3-D technology to analyze some 28 parameters of the putting stroke and displays the results in easy to understand graphic reports.
Orr also pioneered along with Dr. Rob Neal of Golf BioDynamics research on the working of the hands, wrists, forearms and upper arms in the putting stroke. That research became the basis for Neal’s GDB 3-D System that in the last decade has taken putting stroke and full-swing analysis to new technical levels.
“My teaching method is based on research, not on theory,” Orr says. “I offer very little ‘how-to’ information. One of the things I learned from using SAM was, ‘Never guess what you can measure.’ That’s one of my policies, I don’t guess.”
Instead of shoe-horning a player into an established technique, Orr evaluates each golfer and offers suggestions and direction based on analysis of three key skills to holing a putt: Can a player read a green? How good are they adjusting to speeds of greens? And are they able to start the ball on-line?
“Those are the three skills—read, speed and line,” says Orr, who in 2011 won the prestigious Palmer Maples Teacher of the Year for the Carolinas PGA Section. “With each element, we take the guesswork out. We measure it. Then we take what you have and make it the best it can be. There is no perfect putting technique—except your own.”
Orr’s research and teaching protocol led him to the PGA Tour and in 2012 he met Sean Foley, one of the game’s top full-swing instructors and the teacher to Justin Rose, the Englishman who in 2010 won twice on tour and finished the year ranked the 29th best player in the world. Foley and Orr developed a friendship that led to Rose asking Orr for some help with his putting and short game. By the end of 2013, Rose had won a U.S. Open and was ranked as high as No. 3 in the world.
“We improved his touch, his green reading, his stroke,” Orr says. “He just needed some direction. When you’re working with a Tour player, you try to give them direction and some clarity. It wasn’t anything earth-shattering, but there was a pattern there, that even to this day when it’s not going well he reverts back to. He now has a better handle on it, seeing it’s a blend between the art and the science.”
Orr looks forward to sharing his perspective and state-of-the-art putting studio with members and guests at Pine Needles in the coming months. His presence will only add to the Pine Needles tradition of offering cutting-edge golf instruction that dates back to the late-1950s, when Peggy and Warren Bell began offering weekend golf schools. Today the Pine Needles teaching staff is headed by Pat McGowan, a former PGA Tour player; his wife Bonnie Bell McGowan, who grew up around the teaching environment at Pine Needles; and Donna Andrews, a former LPGA Tour player.
“I’m going to still teach classes at Campbell, I’ll still work with some tour players, I’ll still travel and speak at putting conferences and teaching seminars around the world,” Orr says. “But I’m looking forward to re-engaging with average golfers, helping them become better putters. It’s really fun to be back at Pine Needles, where it all started.
“Bonnie jokes with me and says, ‘Mom brought you back here.’ To be honest, I think that’s exactly right.”